In his final collegiate cross country race, nine-time All-American senior Grant Fisher finished second at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, matching the highest placing by any Stanford runner in the history of the championships. The No. 5 men’s and No. 6 women’s teams each placed fifth in the freezing conditions in Verona, Wisconsin, on Saturday morning.
The men’s race came down to the final meters of the race. As the men entered the final uphill stretch on the 10-kilometer (6.21-mile) snow-covered Thomas Zimmer Championship Course, Wisconsin’s Morgan McDonald led a triumphant sprint to the finish with Fisher and Iowa State’s Edwin Kurgat chasing. McDonald (29:08.3) reached the line half a second ahead of Fisher (29:08.8) who settled for second. Kurgat (29:09.0) placed third.
“I was proud of how I kicked. Morgan got the best of me over the last 100 meters. I have tremendous respect for him and all the other guys that were leading… The NCAA is incredibly deep and to be in that pack is something special,” said Fisher in an interview with FloTrack. “I’m proud of how I executed the race.”
In team standings, No. 1 Northern Arizona University (83 points) took home the team title for the third consecutive year. All five scorers for the Lumberjacks finished in the top 30 and their top six runners were named All-Americans. No. 2 BYU (116) repeated last year’s performance, finishing runner-up as a team.
No. 4 Portland (160) collected the bronze medal after relying heavily on their strong packing for a podium finish. The Pilots were the only team in the top nine to have no runner place within the top 15 of the field. The team also boasted the smallest gap (31.2 seconds) between their first and fifth runner among the top nine teams. No. 8 Colorado (178) finished fourth with three runners finishing in the top 11.
The No. 5 Cardinal men (201) snagged fifth place, marking the team’s fifth consecutive season placing fifth or better at nationals. Fisher’s runner up performance at the Big Dance joins the works of Chris Derrick (2011), Neftalem Araia (2006), Ryan Hall (2003) and Gary Stolz (1992).
Junior Alex Ostberg (29:33.9) earned his second All-American honor after finishing 13th in the race, improving upon last year’s 16th place performance. Junior Alek Parsons (29:52.6), who has stepped up as the Cardinal’s consistent No. 3 man this season, finished in 30th place, earning his first All-American distinction.
“To put two teams in the top five each year is the kind of consistency that speaks to what we’ve built as a program,” head coach Chris Miltenberg said. “We want to win, no question about it. And we will. But you look at the ups and downs so many teams have had and here we are, we’re steady at the wheel. We’ve built the most consistent program in the nation.”
In the women’s race, the No. 6 Cardinal were led by fifth-year Elise Cranny and junior Fiona O’Keeffe. The two veterans have been representing the Cardinal at the front all season, and Saturday was no different.
In her final collegiate race, Cranny covered the 6-kilometer (3.73-mile) course in 20:02.8 for 11th place, collecting her 12th All-American honor and highest placing at nationals. Cranny now holds the fourth most All-American honors in program history, trailing Lauren Fleshman (15, 1999-2003), Erica McLain (13, 2005-08) and Arianna Lambie (13, 2003-08). All three of those women are in Stanford Athletics Hall of Fame.
O’Keeffe (20:11.7) received her third All-American honor after finishing in 17th place. Sophomore Jess Lawson (20:40.4) finished 44th overall, only four spots away from the All-American distinction.
The women’s scorers were rounded out by sophomores Julia Heymach and Jordan Oakes, who both competed at the Big Dance for the first time this year. Heymach (21:03.7) crossed the 2-kilometer split in 198th place. Over the last four kilometers Heymach passed over 100 runners to finish in 96th place. Oakes had a similar progression in the race, moving from 199th at 2 kilometers to 115th at the finish.
The Cardinal scored 232 points for fifth place. No. 4 Colorado (65) took home the team title after upsetting runner up No. 1 New Mexico (103). The Buffs were led by their own Dani Jones (19:42.8) who won the individual title. Jones also won the individual title at the Pac-12 Championships in October. No. 2 Oregon (160) finished third in team standings, while No. 7 Michigan (213) finished fourth.
With Cranny and Fisher having completed their final cross country seasons for the Cardinal, Miltenberg said, “It’s hard to put into words what Elise and Grant have meant to our program.”
While Cranny’s competitive season as a Cardinal has ended, Fisher still has two indoor and one outdoor track season of eligibility left. The program will shift gears to the indoor track season, which is set to begin in early January.